Change the Dog’s Environment. These are the “common sense” simple things to try if feasible for your circumstances. Try creating a safe haven for your dog (such as a blanket-covered crate) or finding a location that will reduce the noise level. Try turning on music or the television to help mask the sound of the problem noise. If you know an event is coming (e.g. thunderstorm or fireworks), try giving your dog a lot of exercise beforehand. None of the above typically shows dramatic results, but they can help to reduce symptoms.
Pressure Wraps. This is a surprisingly simple and effective treatment for many dogs. But unfortunately, most veterinarians have never even heard of it as a treatment for noise anxiety. A “pressure wrap” is anything that wraps around the dog’s torso and chest to provide a constant, gentle pressure. Why does it work? No one knows for sure but it’s likely a combination of making the dog feel comforted and secure plus distracting the dog from concentrating on whatever it fears. You can try to make one yourself out of an appropriately sized t-shirt, but it can be difficult to put on and to get the desired fit. I like a product called Thundershirt (www.thundershirt.com). It’s very easy to put on, is well made, and is the least expensive commercial wrap available…just $36 the last time I looked. And Thundershirt offers a satisfaction guarantee..if it doesn’t work for you, you can return it for a full refund. Pressure wraps often show good results with the first usage, however some dogs require 2, 3 or more usages before you see reduced or eliminated symptoms. A pressure wrap is inexpensive, the least time consuming, and has no risk of negative side effects. So why not try it?
Behavior Modification. sensitization is the most common behavior modification tried for noise anxiety. In a nutshell, in a controlled environment, you begin by exposing your dog to a low level of the noise that bothers her. As she gets accustomed to it, you increase the levels louder and louder over time until she learns to tolerate the real deal. It’s good in theory but has limitations in practice. It’s very time consuming…if it works at all for your dog, you will likely have to give periodic treatments weekly for the rest of the dog’s life. And many dogs are too smart to react to the “staged” noise; they can tell the difference between a CD playing a thunderstorm and the real thing. If you want to give it a try, several books are available on the subject.
Medications.This is a very involved, complex area of treatment, so I won’t pretend to provide a thorough overview here. There are a variety of prescription medications that your veterinarian may suggest. Some are administered on a regular basis for the life of the dog (Paroxetine or Fluoxetine). Some are given only at the time of an anxiety event (valium). Sometimes a combination of drugs are used…a doggy noise cocktail. Any of these options tend to be relatively expensive. The vet visits alone can run hundreds of dollars over a dog’s life. And you still need to pay for the drugs! Plus all drugs pose the risk of unwanted physical side effects, sometimes severe. Make sure you ask your vet about any potential risks with the drug(s) you’re considering. Two serious issues I have with using a sedative like valium: 1. It can take hours for the drug to take full effect, so you have to anticipate the noise event for it to help. Not very easy for storms that hit in the night. 2. Your dog will remain groggy for hours after the storm has passed and be a danger to herself. If she tries to jump off a bed under the influence of valium, she may very well break a leg!
In conclusion, you don’t have to let your dog just suffer through noise anxiety. There are treatments to try and some do not require a big commitment by you, either time or money. At a minimum, you should try mixing up the environment and using a pressure wrap. In combination, that may be all you need for your little “puppy” to weather the storms symptom free!